Dr. Clay Johnston, Dean of the UT Dell Medical School recently riffed on artificial intelligence and doctors as an endangered species. It plays on our insecurities over artificial intelligence while recognizing that technology could be the very thing that saves us.
A few rapid fire thoughts on some of his points.
Artificial intelligence as our asteroid moment. Yes. Extinction has been in our cards for a generation. But we’re only doomed if we say we are. If we decide that we’re part of the process of envisioning the future, we’re less doomed. Technology is never deterministic. Doctors have agency. Few recognize it
Artificial intelligence is leading toward a change in the role of the physician. Every medical generation is shaped by its technology. Pysicians will not be replaced but radically redefined. Asteroids, less likely.
When it comes to routine cognition, Watson is going to win. Once we realize that it’s not a jeopardy competition we can finally get beyond ourselves and begin to work with machines in a way that benefits our end user: the patient.
Future physicians might not be merely different: we might be better. This is the view of those who see a brighter future with what technology might bring. More than any other time in history technology gives us the chance to do what we do best. Like Johnston, I see the glass as half-full.
A robot’s cold, metallic hand is no substitute for human touch. While a dystopian view of the future with cold robot hands is what we might envision, the actual future has yet to materialize. In the words of Max Tegmark, MIT physicist and author of Life 3.0, instead of asking what the future will be like, we should ask what future do we want? Another great example of how as physicians and medical educators we can and should choose to design our interactions, shape the boundaries of our technology and participate in the creation of our future.
The humanistic aspects of medicine will be more difficult to replace with technology. It’s important to remember that if a machine can do something then it wasn’t human to begin with. Technology will show us what it is to be human and what we’re good at. The greatest challenge of this medical generation will be to figure out what humans are uniquely qualified to do. Sounds odd but I’m quite certain it will bear out.
Clay Johnston is the first medical leader in a century to truly change the trajectory for the next generation of health professionals. In this post as in his work he walks a fine line between creating a new medical generation while playing to a profession dangerously preoccupied with the status quo.
Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash – modified.